November 16, 2022

Time to Wake Up 286: COP27

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, I rise today for my 286th ‘‘Time to Wake Up’’ speech, in this case to report back from the United Nations’ 27th Conference of the Parties, or COP, the annual meeting where the nations of the world work to combat climate change. The Paris Agreement, for instance, sprang from the COP.

Senators CARDIN, MARKEY, and I went to this year’s COP in Egypt. Speaker PELOSI led a separate House delegation, and President Biden traveled there with a large executive branch delegation to make some important announcements. Our Senate delegation met with government officials from many other countries, with American officials, with UN leaders, and with dozens of business leaders, labor leaders, environmental groups, environmental justice advocates, and oceans advocates.

We consistently heard that the work we accomplished right here in this Chamber through the Inflation Reduction Act and by ratifying the Kigali Amendment brought our country back into global leadership on climate. But we know that our work to tackle climate change is not over—not by a long shot.

Emissions from fossil fuel are still growing. 2022 fossil fuel emissions will blow right past previous record highs. Things are not getting better yet; they are getting worse. We need additional ambitious climate policies, both at home and abroad, to reduce those emissions. And because climate disasters so often fall upon the most vulnerable, particularly in developing nations, we need the wealthier nations and the ultrawealthy corporations responsible for the lion’s share of climate upheaval to step up to finance the clean energy transition for those countries.

So, what are the things the United States and other nations should do? At the COP, I spoke a lot about the upcoming European Union carbon border adjustment mechanism, or CBAM. The EU already applies a carbon price to energy-intensive manufactured goods. That is one of the main policies that is driving decarbonization in Europe, and they will start, later this decade, imposing a carbon tariff on goods from countries that don’t impose a comparable carbon price on those imported goods.

My message to the COP: The EU CBAM is good policy. It creates an incentive for lower carbon manufacturing, no matter where the goods are produced. The United States should not—I repeat—the United States should not complain about the EU CBAM. Our manufacturers are among the least carbon intensive in the world, and they will pay far lower carbon tariffs than, for instance, Chinese manufacturers. That makes American companies more globally competitive and will move jobs and manufacturing our way to our shores. So instead of complaining, we should match the EU CBAM or beat it with our own carbon border adjustment plan. And, by the way, we should urge the British and the Canadians and the Japanese and the Australians, anyone else interested in lowering emissions, to do the same. We should all pull together.

The beauty of a well-designed carbon border adjustment is that it prevents cheating by polluters to cross borders and pollute elsewhere for free. A carbon border adjustment regime will drive decarbonization everywhere—in China, India, and around the world. If their manufacturers want to compete, they will have to reduce their emissions. So, yes, let’s meet or beat the EU CBAM, not fear it or resist it.

By the way, when we heard quibbles about our IRA incentives for clean energy and electric vehicles and low carbon manufacturing being unfair to our foreign trading partners, my response was the same: Meet us or beat us. Pass incentives as good as ours or better. Let our IRA be an example that can be replicated around the world.

As I mentioned earlier, President Biden came to the COP with ambitious proposals. He unveiled a new EPA proposal to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas production and transport by almost 90 percent. This is—as President Biden might say—a ‘‘BFD’’ as methane emissions are responsible for about 25 percent of observed warming.

The EPA proposal is a huge step in the right direction. It would create a new process for thirdparty monitoring of methane emissions. There are already a number of private and public entities that monitor methane emissions around the world using satellites, aircraft, drones. Utilize this data to quickly identify and eliminate large sources of methane emissions.

We should stand up an enforcement task force to make sure leakers promptly face the best enforcement methods to stop their leaks. Combined with my methane fee, which was adopted into the IRA as the Methane Emission Reduction Program, we now have the platform for the EPA, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and interested State, local, and tribal authorities to, as they would say in the military, find, fix, and finish methane leak sources.

Given that methane emissions are a global problem, particularly in fossil fuel-producing countries like Russia, I also urged the U.S. and foreign officials with whom we met to stand up an international task force to identify overseas methane emissions and sanction parties, companies, and countries that don’t eliminate them. Buried within EPA’s methane proposal is another important announcement, an updated social cost of carbon, pegged at $120 per ton, more than double the Obama-era estimate. This too is a ‘‘BFD.’’ But only if the Office of Management and Budget follows up and spreads its use beyond just the EPA and this regulation into rulemaking, procurement, grantmaking, investment decisions, leasing, trade policy, just to name a few. It would be transformative; and given the scale and scope of the Federal Government, it would have the power to move markets.

One note of warning, our success in the United States, as well as in countries around the world, will, in significant ways, be determined by the behavior of big corporations. Corporate America has built the biggest political influence operation the world has ever seen. It surrounds this building, surrounds us here in Congress.

Lobbyists, dark money, trade associations, political contributions, phony think tanks—it is an awesome apparatus, and it is one that corporate America has yet to switch on for climate legislation. They either sit out there doing nothing or they actually oppose it. Despite often admirable corporate work to decarbonize their own operations and even their supply chains, much of the corporate political apparatus is actually actively hostile to real climate legislation. And on top of that, of course, is the fossil fuel industry’s inveterate, ceaseless obstruction machine.

So I was pleased to see the United Nations Secretary General announce new criteria for assessing corporate climate pledges—criteria that will include their lobbying and advocacy behavior. The report states: [Companies] must align their external policy and engagement efforts, including membership in trade associations, to the goal of reducing global emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. This means lobbying for positive climate action and not lobbying against it. [Companies] should publicly disclose their trade association affiliations. They should encourage their associations to advocate for positive climate action and have an escalation strategy if they do not, including the option of leaving the association if the necessary changes are not made.

I could not agree more. At COP, I repeatedly made the argument that companies should actually be required to file audited climate political footprint statements. Too many companies have been two-faced for too long. That climate political footprint statement should be the ticket that admits companies to COP and to other environmental gatherings. But instead of corporate transparency about their political activities, more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists swarmed this COP. Coca-Cola, the world’s largest plastics polluter, was a leading sponsor.

That ‘‘worst climate obstructor’’—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—hosted the big dinner and put on a speech by a fossil fuel services company president. It is hard for people around the world to take COPs seriously when the fossil fuel industry and other large polluters have such a prominent presence at the COP and they haven’t had to even disclose their political efforts to undermine that very COP.

Instead of welcoming the big polluters to COPs, we should hold them accountable for the damages their pollution is causing. A windfall profits clawback on global excess fuel profits, just like the conservative Tories did in the UK, could help fund remediation, transition, and adaptation efforts in developing countries. It is a commonsense principle that polluters should pay for the harm that they cause.

At the end, I left this COP with a sense of pride that the Senate and the U.S. Government are finally getting going on climate, but also a sense of the awesome difficulty of the task ahead to bend that global emissions curve, to hit nature’s emissions reduction targets. Our work is not close to done. In fact, it has only just begun.

After decades of delay, deliberately caused by the fossil fuel industry’s multibillion-dollar campaign of denial and obstruction, we are now in a marathon that we will have to run as a sprint. But this past year proved that we are finally up and running, and the announcements at COP will pick up our laggard pace. Our joints may be stiff from disuse, our breathing may be ragged from years of lassitude on the couch, but we have at last begun to run. And, boy, does it feel good.

We will only speed up and do better. Powered by the energy and enthusiasm of legions of young voters, we are, I dare to say, at last coming awake.

 I will close with this last slide which shows how important it is to see this as a global problem. Those are emissions from China, from the United States, from India, and from the EU. When you add them up, you see the global figure. If we address each of these or just our own, it does not help enough to avoid the consequences of that continuing upward emissions trajectory. So that is where an internal social cost of carbon that cuts across every aspect of government, buttressed by a carbon border adjustment of the world’s major economies—that is what can drive that line down and put us on a pathway to safety.

I yield the floor.